That’s nowhere more true than in Virginia, where Republicans, in a Jonestown-like mass suicide movement, nominated a statewide slate of three tea party extremists, led by gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli. As attorney general, Cuccinelli endeared himself as tea party favorite by leading Virginia’s version of the Republican war on women. He opposed abortion, without exception, for rape, incest or health of the woman; led the charge to defund Planned Parenthood and supported legislation forcing women to undergo a mandatory vaginal probe before any abortion. He was the first attorney general in the nation to file a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act, with its special benefits to women. And he authored the so-called Personhood Amendment, which would have banned not only abortion, but most forms of birth control.
In the end, such extreme positions sent Virginia women voters flocking to Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe. In exit polls, an amazing 20 percent of voters identified abortion as their No. 1 issue. Fifty-nine percent of them voted for McAuliffe.
Strangely enough, Virginia Republicans weren’t satisfied with Cuccinelli’s extreme right-wing politics. They trotted out an even more extreme candidate for lieutenant governor. In the last week of the campaign alone, E.W. Jackson accused President Obama of forcing schools to “start teaching all children homosexuality,” insisted that every person who has a concealed weapons permit “should be allowed to bring that firearm to school,” and complained that allowing gays to serve openly in the military had allowed “our military to become the equivalent of Sodom and Gomorrah.” Only Jackson could make Cuccinelli look like a moderate.
To further satisfy his tea party base, Cuccinelli also turned the governor’s race into a referendum on the Affordable Care Act. In a replay of Mitt Romney’s losing strategy of 2012, Cuccinelli told voters: If you like Obamacare, vote for McAuliffe. If you don’t, vote for me. Mitt Romney tried that and lost by five million votes. Cuccinelli lost by 56,000. When will they ever learn?
Virginia wasn’t the only place where the tea party was trounced. In the Republican primary in Alabama’s First Congressional District, Bradley Byrne, a moderate, establishment Republican with support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups, easily defeated his tea party opponent Dean Young, who called himself a disciple of Ted Cruz. Based on their success in Alabama, national business leaders vowed to oppose more tea party candidates in 2014.
Not even a Republican victory in New Jersey was any comfort to tea party Republicans. Because everybody knows that Chris Christie, no matter how conservative, is no tea partyer. For the conservative blog The Daily Caller, Christie’s win was just another liberal triumph, summed up with the headline “Bad night for conservatives: De Blasio, McAuliffe, Christie.” The only advice conservative blogger Matt Drudge could offer was: “Hug a conservative today.”
From coast to coast, tea party candidates proved once again that, while they can generally whip up the base enough to win Republican primaries, they can’t win general elections. Their negative, strident, anti-government, uncompromising and often racist brand of politics is just not where most middle-class Americans are comfortable. The tea party burst on the scene in 2010 with great promise of becoming a powerful force in American politics, but it’s on the verge of disappearing faster than the Federalist or Whig parties.
Our first political party, the Federalist Party, lasted only 20 years after its bruising loss to Thomas Jefferson in 1800, but still gave us two great leaders, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton. The Whig Party, in its golden 20 years, produced four presidents and, for a while, counted Abraham Lincoln among its members. Now the tea party’s fading away after only three years, having brought us political pygmies like Michele Bachmann, Allen West, Ken Cuccinelli and Ted Cruz.
Virginia’s looney-tunes lieutenant governor candidate E.W. Jackson crowed this week: “It was God’s plan to beget the tea party.” As if God gives a whit. Well, if so, it looks like it’s now God’s plan to kill the party off. As the poet John Donne warned members of the tea party long ago: “Don’t ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee!”
Bill Press is host of a nationally syndicated radio show.